New 600-Gallon Spill at Wastewater Plant

Friday, September 2, 2016, 12:00 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

This week, East Lansing’s wastewater treatment plant had another accidental chemical spill, this time about 600 gallons of ferric chloride. This time, City administrators tell ELi, the spill was handled correctly.

According to the Water Resource Recovery Facility’s Superintendent Paul Stokes, “Early Saturday morning (8/27/16) we had major failure in a chemical supply line resulting in the discharge of approximately 600 gallons of ferric chloride to a paved area, running off into the adjacent soil.”

Ferric chloride is an acid used to treat wastewater in order to remove phosphates. According to Stokes, the chemical spill got into the soil but did not reach the Red Cedar River, into which the plant dumps treated water.

East Lansing’s wastewater treatment plant has a troubled history with safety, and is currently the subject of a lawsuit brought by workers who say the plant and City administration has disregarded their health and safety. The lawsuit focuses on an unreported mercury spill and asbestos risk that allegedly went unaddressed for years.

ELi has learned that the plant is operating under “administrative extension” of an Environmental Protection Agency wastewater permit that expired in 2012. This is the plant’s NPDES permit, which stands for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

Jennifer Beese of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed for ELi that the permit expired four years ago. This was also confirmed by Charles Bennett of the Lansing office of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).  Bennett told me the plant is expected to formally reapply soon for the permit, at which point a public hearing will be conducted.

With regard to Saturday’s ferric chloride spill, plant Superintendent Stokes tells ELi, “An emergency response cleanup team was contacted to contain and clean up the spill, with Tetra Tech providing project oversight to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.” Stokes says, “The leak is attributed to a potential underground distribution line breaking or settling, shearing the pipe above ground. The underground pipe is scheduled for replacement this week.”

I spoke yesterday with East Lansing’s Director of Public Works, Scott House, about the spill. He told me he is confident “appropriate steps were taken to contain it and to start the abatement process. Unfortunately, with a spill like this, it takes time to fully understand what was the root cause and how to fully mitigate those causes. We expect our efforts to continue into next week.”

Asked about the cost of the spill, House said that had not been determined yet. He told me, “We will do due diligence to follow up. We’re asking ourselves are we going far enough, are we doing the right things.”

 

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